Discouraged by a lack of successors, Mark Ward was prepared to sell his dealerships. That changed recently, however. His son-in-law and youngest daughter want to be in the family business now. A cousin on his wife’s side is already working at one of his dealerships and is very promising.
“The reason I was thinking about selling was I didn’t have any other family members in getting involved,” he tells Automotive Buy Sell Report. “Now that there are people who want to get involved, I want to continue.”
Ward, who owns two dealerships in Illinois, is looking to do more than just continue. He is looking to grow his dealership count and is actively shopping for acquisitions. Ward sees it as necessary for survival in today’s auto retail environment.
“The trend is you are going to have to have five to seven dealerships,” he says. “If you don’t, you are going to get left behind.”
Ward Chrysler Center, in Carbondale, IL includes Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram franchises. Ward Chevrolet is in Metropolis, IL.
There had been a Kia franchise under the same roof as the Chrysler brands. Ward sold the Kia franchise in February when the manufacturer requested that he separate the franchise into a different facility.
“It worked out well for me to sell it,” he says.
Ward has been in the dealership business since 1983. He became a dealer principal in 1996. It is in his blood – Ward’s father has owned a dealership since 1965. His father is currently co-owner of Ron Ward Chevrolet and Ward’s brother runs that store.
The auto retail business has changed a lot since he entered it, says Ward. The biggest change agent is the internet. Customers have access to so much pricing information online, it has driven new and even used car sales profits down, he says.
“You might need five (sales) to make what a guy used to make in one or two,” says Ward.
The key to success in today’s market is “to have really good people,” he says. “That is easily said but not easily done. They are the key, they have to buy in (and) they have to represent you well.”
The internet is the focal point here, as well. Good employees equal a good customer experience and, hopefully, good online reviews. The opposite can be deadly. “Social media can really put a hurt on you,” says Ward.
As he looks to acquire dealerships, online reviews is an area Ward will pay close attention to. He figures that getting positive reviews up as quickly as possible can really help turn a store around.
“If you can come in there and get reviews up pretty quickly, you could make a good name for yourself,” he says.
That will require finding more good people to work in the stores, which may be difficult because young folks don’t always want to stay in southern Illinois, he admits. “We have to give these kids a reason to stay,” says Ward.
As for franchises Ward is interesting in acquiring, Kia and Hyundai are top of his mind. He likes Kia despite the fact he sold his Kia store, says Ward. Hyundai is owned by the same company, and he feels he knows both manufacturers.
“I feel like Kia and Hyundai are willing to help you grow,” he says, and “they have good cars.”
Ward figures the Korean brands are on the cusp of taking off in the U.S. He sees them as “where Toyota was in the 80’s.”
He isn’t writing off the domestics, however.
“I would look at a Chrysler, GM, or Ford dealership,” says Ward.